Pages

Monday, August 13, 2012

The True Olympian


It’s all over. No more Olympics. As usual, we have another American victory. Why is that? Being a nerd, I amused myself by looking at the final Olympic standings from a couple of angles. My primary motivation is to find a way to massage the numbers to make Canada look better (spoiler alert: I fail). It wasn’t our nation’s best performance. As one news reporter pointed out, we’re getting more bronze medals than ever before! (Such a Canadian thing to say. Hey, we’re third, but we’re doing very well at being not quite the best.)

So how to manipulate things? The most obvious way is to use the American system of counting medals. By raw numbers, we place 13th overall. Not bad, compared to a showing of 36th using the “gold standard” method the Olympics officially uses. But Canada is a small country in terms of population, and while our per capita wealth is quite high, our national coffers aren’t as deep as some. So what happens when we adjust medals for those factors?

For simplicity, I used the Olympic method of counting. Gold medals determine your standing, with the others used only to break ties. Here’s the way the Olympics actually went:


Country
Gold Medals
United States
46
China
38
United Kingdom
29
Russia
24
South Korea
13
France
11
Germany
11
Hungary
8
Italy
8
Australia
7
Japan
7
Canada
1


I’ve included Canada in the list, even though there are actually 25 countries between ourselves and Japan. Below see how things appear once I adjust the medal counts based on comparative population. Since China has the most people, their total stays the same and the rest get a boost based on the discrepancy between their own population and China’s. Here are the top people now:


Country
Gold Medals
Jamaica
2694
New Zealand
2020
Hungary
1197
Croatia
1010
United Kingdom
630
Cuba
612
Kazakhstan
589
Netherlands
505
Belarus
449
Australia
428
South Korea
350
Canada
39


Our standing improves a couple of places (early 30’s now), still behind the US (they have 197 medals in this “population model”). We do beat China, though, by a single fictional medal. Jamaica is obviously doing quite well with the limited people they’ve got (what is it about hot countries, I wonder, that makes them capable of running so fast? If I were living in Jamaica I’d never move faster than a slow amble from one air-conditioned building to another.)

Now let’s try adjusting the original standings for national production. Nominal GDP gives us:


Country
Gold Medals
Jamaica
5600
North Korea
5550
Cuba
1166
Kazakhstan
980
New Zealand
840
Ukraine
835
Belarus
830
Croatia
700
Russia
240
United Kingdom
203
Iran
186
Canada
9


Once again, Jamaica rules. They are certainly making the most of what they’ve got. Our own standing drops well below 36th: we don’t get much bang for our production dollars. China has 106 medals, the US 46, so both those nations cease to be big winners.

I didn’t bother going for per capita GDP. If I had, Luxembourg would have kicked serious butt. This whole project is simplistic, but it’s entertaining (to me, at least) to see that using variable criteria, the Kings of the World suddenly don’t look so good. The US and China (and us, to a lesser degree) have a lot of advantages other nations don’t enjoy. That’s what makes the victories won by the “small fish” like Jamaica even more impressive. (With a fraction of our resources and population, they still snatched up 4 gold medals in the real world.) Is this just because the Olympics does its best to create a level playing field?

As a result of this “analysis,” I declare the true winner of the 2012 Olympics to be... the United Kingdom! Why? The UK is the only nation that appears on all three lists of the “Top Twelve.” They placed 3rd in the real world, 5th in “Population Matters,” and 11th in “It’s All About Money.” Perhaps spurred on by a home court advantage, they clearly did something right.

Congratulations, United Kingdom. I’m sure the IOC will be in touch with you directly to arrange the awarding of your commemorative plaque.


No comments:

Post a Comment